In 2005, world news reported on an exorcism in Tanacu, Romania, in which Irina Cornici, a 23-year-old nun, died after being gagged and bound to a cross without food for three days. In 2007, Daniel Corogeanu, the priest who oversaw the exorcism, received a seven-year prison sentence, which recently ended. Corogeanu initially stated that he would create a new monastery dedicated to Cornici’s memory. However, angry villagers ran him out of town and he now lives as a hermit in a wooden hut.
Corogeanu’s rise and fall remains a watershed moment for the resurgence of religion in post-Communist Romania. Much like Jonestown in the United States, the exorcism of Irnia Cornici is fascinating, not only because it is awful but because the public narrative of the event is amenable to constructing the boundaries between “good” religion and the subordinate categories of madness, superstition, and cults.
The New York Times dubbed Cornici’s death “a casualty on Romania’s road back from atheism.” Under communism, Orthodox Christianity, as well as folk practices, were repressed. After the revolution, hundreds of new churches and monasteries were erected and there was a scramble to recruit new priests. There was also a popular demand for services such as exorcism and priests like Corogeanu could become local heroes by taking claims of the demonic seriously. Corogeanu reportedly performed exorcisms in ways not approved by Church authorities and even accused his bishop of promoting Freemasonry.
After Cornici’s death, Corogeanu was transformed from a local folk hero into a national folk devil. The case became an embarrassing symbol of a “superstitious” past that the new Romania and the Orthodox Church were attempting to leave behind. Corogeanu and the nuns who assisted him were excommunicated. Romanian media described him as a “red-bearded killer” aided by “idolatrous nuns.”
There is some evidence that Cornici’s death may have been prevented if the paramedics that the nuns called to the monastery had not administered a high volume of adrenaline (six doses according to some accounts). However, Corogeanu’s current exile shows that the public remains unwilling to forgive him.
In 2012, Romanian director Christian Mungiu adapted the case into the film Dupa Dealuri (“Beyond the Hills”). This will probably not be the last adaptation of the story. Survey data suggests that religion is especially important to Romanians compared to other European nations. As Romania’s religious culture continues to develop, even if Corogeanu spends the rest of his life in a hut the story of a murderous priest served by “idolatrous” nuns may take a place in the Romanian imagination marking the boundary between “good” religion and dangerous supernaturalism.